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Fear of army action as Sudan protesters toughen stand

FILE PHOTO: Sudan protesters

Khartoum, Sudan | AFP | Sudanese protesters Tuesday hardened their demand that the military men in power quickly step down and make way for civilian rule, refusing to budge from their sit-in outside army headquarters.

The country’s new military ruler General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in another apparent concession to the protesters, meanwhile fired prosecutor general Omer Ahmed Mohamed.

“Freedom, peace, justice,” read banners carried by hundreds of University of Khartoum academics who marched to the protest site, demanding the transitional military council resign.

The pro-democracy demonstrators fear the army is seeking to hijack the street revolution that last Thursday ended the three-decade reign of president Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled by top commanders.

The often festive mood of the protesters has grown more tense amid fears the army will try to clear out the demonstrators with force.

Witnesses said several army vehicles had surrounded the area and that troops were seen removing the barricades which demonstrators had put up as a security measure.

Vehicles carrying paramilitary forces deployed on a bridge that connects the protest site with north Khartoum, a witness said.

State television later showed extensive footage of the protests, something that never happened during Bashir’s rule.

– ‘Not going anywhere’ –

One demonstrator, Ahmed Najdih, predicted “the army will try to make another attempt to disperse the protesters because it is under huge pressure”.

“But we are not going anywhere. We will not lose our patience. We know what happened in Egypt and we don’t want that to happen to us.”

In neighbouring Egypt, the so-called Arab Spring revolution of 2011 toppled veteran president Hosni Mubarak and replaced him with elected Islamist Mohammed Morsi only for him to be overthrown in 2013 by then army chief, now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Protest leaders in Sudan have gradually toughened their approach towards the military council, as policy announcements from its uniformed officers have multiplied.

Amid widespread anger at the number of faces from the old regime, the protesters secured the replacement of its first chairman, a longtime Bashir loyalist, after just 24 hours last week.

The honeymoon of his successor, General Burhan, has lasted just days.

As weekend talks on the transition failed to make headway, protest leaders who initially demanded a “swift” handover to civilian rule, began demanding first an “immediate” handover then the military council’s dissolution.

– Wooing world opinion –

The protesters have highlighted their sacrifices in murals painted outside army headquarters of some of the more than 60 of their comrades killed in clashes with the security forces.

The military council has pledged that individuals implicated in killing protesters would be held to account and that demonstrators detained under a state of emergency imposed by the president during his final weeks in power would be freed.

It has held briefings with Western diplomats and sent an envoy to the African Union’s headquarters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa before it met on Sudan on Monday.

But the 55-member AU stood by its longstanding opposition to all military coups, giving the military council just 15 days to hand over to civilian rule or face suspension from the body.

On Tuesday, the British minister of state for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, said the “UK supports AU call for Sudan to return to civilian rule soon”.

And UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed Nicholas Haysom as an envoy to Sudan to work with the union on mediating an end to the crisis.

In a bid to woo Western opinion, the military council has backtracked on its position towards longstanding warrants for Bashir’s arrest issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Having initially refused to deliver Bashir or any other Sudanese abroad for prosecution, a member of the council said Monday that the decision would be up to a civilian government.

Protest leaders say Bashir must face justice, along with officials from his feared National Intelligence and Security Service whose chief Salih Ghosh resigned on Saturday.

Uganda said later it would consider granting asylum to Bashir.

“If Uganda is approached to grant asylum to Bashir it is an issue that can be considered at the highest level of our leadership,” state minister for foreign affairs Henry Okello Oryem told AFP.

Uganda is one of several African nations which have hosted Bashir in the past without handing him over to the ICC, despite being signatories of the tribunal.

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